SHELBY Lynne, who appears at the Fair Hill Country/Bluegrass Music Festival in Cecil County this Saturday, is not one to pull punches. She practices her no-holds-barred philosophy not only when it comes to singing, but also when it comes to expressing herself.
In one of many glowing reviews that her performances have garnered in the past couple of years, a critic raved about her "flame-thrower" vocal delivery. Others have suggested that the same phrase just as aptly describes her approach to public relations.
"Oh yeah, it really makes 'em nervous at the record company," Lynne says, readily conceding her reputation for stirring up controversy and ruffling feathers in the music industry.
"They can't stand it! It drives 'em crazy! It puts 'em on pins and needles that I tell [the press] exactly how I feel. But I don't care; if somebody doesn't want to know something, then they shouldn't ask."
Though Shelby Lynne is now country music's most closely watched new woman singer, she clearly has not been beguiled by all the critical praise. In fact, during a phone interview from Nashville, the 25-year-old singer sounded almost blase about it all.
"I always knew I was good enough," she says. "I just knew I needed the right break."
So far, she has three well-received LP's and a handful of hit country singles -- "Things Are Tough All Over," "I'll Lie Myself to Sleep" and "What About the Love We Made." And she won this year's Academy of Country Music's Top New Female Vocalist award.
But while others grapple for fresh accolades, the southern Alabama-born singer seems slightly cynical about her quantum leap from obscurity to incipient stardom.
"There's just a lot of things about the business side of the music industry that I don't like very much, and I think in some ways it's been hard for the music business to accept me," says the singer, who aims to avoid industry politicking.
Perhaps this, and a slight lack of musical direction (three different producers worked on her first three LP's), she has yet to break through with a Top-five hit.
"I think some of it's because I don't have this image," she speculates. "I don't have any set directions as far as that goes, and I'm not into the hat-and-tight-jeans glamour thing. I just do what I feel musically, and I don't tend to cut the same kind of material that everyone else does.
"I've been singing in front of people since I was 2 or 3, and I've wanted to do this since I was a baby. As far as getting paid to sing, though, I never made any money at it until recently."
In fact, until she signed with Sony in the late 1980s, Lynne's sole professional experience was winning a few first-place $25 prizes at Alabama fiddlers conventions.
And her entry into Nashville's high-power, major-label sweepstakes was something of a Cinderella story fluke. She made a rather unsophisticated demo tape of a few of her original songs and sent it to the only connection she had in Nashville's music circuit; publishing executive named Bob Tubert. Tubert sent the tape on to producers of "Nashville Now," on cable TV's Nashville Network. To everyone's surprise, "Nashville Now" booked Lynne for an appearance solely on the strength of her demo tape.
"Sunrise," Lynne's debut LP, was produced by the legendary Billy Sherrill (George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, Ray Charles). Critical response was immediate. When USA Today introduced her to the world in a splashy front-page feature, she seemed well on her way.
Unfortunately, "Tough All Over," her second LP, proved to be a less than the glorious follow-up to "Sunrise." Like its predecessor it did not spawn any radio hits and Lynne vented her frustration by telling the press how much she despised the record.
"On 'Soft Talk'," she adds, sounding almost enthusiastic, everything clicked, and I felt completely comfortable."
SO what can the audience expect from her at Fair Hill on Saturday?
"I just couldn't sit here today and tell you what kind of show I'll put on," she said. "I may be in the worst mood you've ever seen. But I can promise you there'll be good music. I can promise you that."